We really shouldn’t have to tell you this, but lunch theft is one of the worst office sins imaginable. At some jobs, lunch is pretty much the only bright spot of the day, and while taking someone’s Fritos might seem like a victimless crime, it’s a pretty heartless move.
Unfortunately, it’s also surprisingly common. According to a 2017 American Express OPEN survey, about 18 percent of Americans admit that they’ve stolen a coworker’s lunch. That’s nearly one in five workers—and we thought that psychopathy was fairly rare.
We collected some of the most satisfying stories of lunch thieves getting their comeuppance, then edited them slightly for readability. If you’re thinking about sneaking a bite of that delicious-looking roast beef sandwich in your office refrigerator, these tales of revenge should make you think twice.
1. To catch a thief, you don’t really need state-of-the-art equipment.
Many lunch-theft revenge stories involve putting something gross in the target food (and don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of those stories later in this list). Quora user Rik Osborne found a simpler way to expose his coworker’s misdeeds.
“There used to be a guy who would steal my energy drinks from the walk-in cooler,” Osborne wrote. “When called on it, he would insist he was drinking his own, and unfortunately, there was no way to prove [the theft], because he did indeed frequently bring energy drinks to work.”
Energy drinks are expensive, and Osborne wasn’t about to let it slide.
“I started taking a Sharpie and writing the words ‘STOLEN FROM RIK’ on the bottoms of my cans. So now, if he was drinking one of mine, everybody could see it—every time he lifted the can to his lips.”
2. What’s the matter? Frog in your throat?
Quora user Vicente S. Velasco has a friend who’s really great at making adobo, a spicy dish that requires some work; basically, you marinate meat in a blend of herbs and spices, then grill it. The result is a deliciously tender cut of meat that’s practically irresistible—or, for some people, completely irresistible.
“Unfortunately, when he took his lunch from the [office] fridge and nuked it in the microwave, he always noticed that someone had been stealing half of it,” Velasco explained. “After a couple of incidents like this, he decided to take action.”
“Instead of using chicken, he made adobo out of frog’s legs. He made sure that he got relatively large legs and made them appear to look like small chicken drumsticks, and he cooked them the usual way.”
Then, he put them in the fridge and waited. Granted, frog legs are perfectly safe to eat, and they taste a bit like chicken, but some people don’t really want to chow down on amphibians—which is why this prank is both harmless and brilliant.
“Sure enough, someone stole a few pieces,” Velasco wrote. “During lunch, he mentioned in passing that he cooked frog’s legs for his adobo. One of my coworkers suddenly rose from a nearby table and dashed out of the lunchroom. Needless to say, nobody stole from my friend’s lunch again.”
3. Sometimes, lunch thieves inadvertently punish themselves.
“[The theft] was kind of a serious problem. because I worked 3 to 11 p.m. in a hospital that closed the cafeteria at 5 p.m., and we were on the far end of campus,” Laura Lake, a retired nurse, wrote on Quora.
She couldn’t afford to order delivery, and the hospital didn’t have any vending machines; if someone lost their lunch (literally, not, uh, figuratively), they’d simply go hungry.
“I brought some leftover salmon, made into a sandwich, and stored it not in the fridge, but in my work area, which was forbidden,” she wrote. “When I took my break, my co-worker begged me not to eat that fish—she was certain it was spoilt. So I made do with the rest [of my food].
“When I got back to my area, I was met with roars of protest about the smell of the fish. The plastic wrap, once opened, wasn’t doing its job. [A coworker] snatched the bag from me and said she was putting it in the freezer so it didn’t stink us out.”
“When I got ready to leave, everyone reminded me to take that fish out of the unit—but it was gone. The next day, the highest paid [coworker] was out with violent food poisoning. I was questioned, but all my coworkers backed me up, thankfully, and it was a union position. I never lost so much as a grape again.”
Yes, Lake’s coworker actually had the nerve to steal her lunch and then accuse her of poisoning it. At least she learned her lesson—probably while developing a lifelong distaste for seafood.
4. If you’re going to steal, make sure you’re ready to take the heat.
This story comes from a Reddit user who has since deleted his post, and it’s an epic example of why you don’t mess with someone’s food.
“I’m a bit of a chili head,” he wrote. “I love my hot sauces. I also love to cook. I also cook my wife a delicious lunch each day.”
“She kept complaining that someone was stealing her lunch every couple of days out of the fridge at work, so I made her some buffalo wings for lunch to put in the fridge. They were really popular with her colleagues, but I spiced them up just a little with some Blair’s 4am Reserve.”
Ladies, getchu a bottle of Blair’s 4am Reserve (hot sauce), sprinkle your food and cut all this foolishness out. https://t.co/uU1NuvhmmT
— Summer Galvez (@summer_galvez) February 23, 2016
That’s an ultra-powerful hot sauce that’s intended to be heavily diluted; the manufacturer recommends diluting one drop per five liters of liquid. This Reddit user added several drops per wing, along with a “nice dusting of ghost chili powder for good measure.” Ouch.
“I did eat a couple to make sure it wouldn’t kill anybody,” he wrote. “They were real hot. Even cream doesn’t cut the heat, and ghost chilies keep getting hotter for about five minutes [after you consume them]. Needless to say, just before lunch, there was a shrill scream from the kitchen.”
“A young male college had decided to help himself to my wife’s lunch, which was clearly marked with her name. He ran to the toilet and vomited over and over. Apparently, the moans sounded like he was dying. My wife just sat there innocently pretending like nothing was wrong. Needless to say, she has not lost a single lunch since.”
5. And if you’re going to steal someone’s lunch, don’t do it at a law firm.
Quora user Kevin Mark Wray worked as a paralegal at a law firm with a lunch thief.
“Everyone suspected various attorneys,” he wrote. “Since we had such a busy floor—we were in the litigation department—it was difficult to [determine] who it might be. We asked someone in IT to set up a webcam in the break-room (which was really just a fridge, coffee station, and a copier). Within two days, we had the thief on camera.”
“All the victims—basically everyone on the floor who had brought lunch filled out an order from a place that catered—sent the culprit, a senior associate, stills from the webcam via inner-office mail. The note with the photos said: ‘Pay up, or we send the entire footage of the 45-second theft to the management committee.’ He ordered the lunches and the thefts ended right then and there.”
Wray offered this valuable advice to anyone dealing with an office thief—and, given that he worked in a law office, it’s a pretty solid suggestion.
“Use a webcam,” he wrote. “Please do not poison people.”
6. One Quora user was delighted to discover that his office had a lunch thief.
“I’ve embraced the event,” wrote Tim Furgerson of Tombstone, Arizona.
“I would write my name on my soda can and open the top just enough so I could squirt about a tablespoon of castor oil into my Coke, then put it into my lunch bag. [I also included] my cracker spread in a disposable plastic container with some crackers.”
His “cracker spread,” by the way, was cat food.
“Hey, don’t knock it!” he wrote. “Some people might like cat food for a cracker spread. I would also use the ‘cracker spread’ to make a sandwich. I also liked beef stew—canned dog food—in a disposable plastic container. With crackers on the side, of course.”
Furgerson also kept his real lunch in the same bag so that he wouldn’t end up hungry.
“It was amazing how quick people stopped eating my lunch,” he wrote.
7. This story’s long, but it’s got a good moral.
“Many years ago, I worked at a large company that had discounted soda vending machines if you worked for a certain group within the company,” wrote Reddit user markny1978. “I was part of this group.”
“Over time, management began putting up more and more hurdles for access to the machines, complaining of other groups aggressively buying [our] group’s sodas. They put the machines behind keypad-locked doors. The keypad codes were changed repeatedly. They switched the machines to tokens, which were available only from the secretary. Then, they limited how many tokens you could buy per day from the secretary. This caused people to visit the secretary more frequently, which overwhelmed her.”
It was a classic case of bureaucratic soda management. Yes, we just wrote that.
“A few other people were volunteered to distribute tokens, [but those people] were rarely available at their desks,” he continued. “Surveillance cameras were put in the soda machine rooms. Employees started to notice that if tokens were left on their desks, or even in unlocked desk drawers, they would slowly disappear.”
“I had brought in a small thermoelectric cooler and would keep a couple sodas in it, [and I] took notice when some of those started to disappear. I was in the middle of a decent-sized cube farm in a group with access to discounted soda machines; why on earth would a coworker steal sodas from me?”
“I was determined to stop this, so I set up a webcam with software that started recording when motion was detected. The next morning, bam, I have video of some guy I didn’t know coming into my cube after hours and stealing a soda. I showed it to a coworker, who recognized the guy as one of the nightly cleaners, and had me show it to my manager.”
“My manager told me to share it with the group’s secretary to deal with. She, in turn, turned it over to the company’s security personnel. The security personnel first grilled and scolded me over the incident, saying that my recording violated company policy and thus couldn’t be used as evidence. Once they got past that, they said they would set up their own surveillance that was literally just their own hidden camera they could remotely monitor.”
“They did so [and] told me to keep doing things exactly the same and keep quiet about the surveillance.”
A week or so passed, but the security team didn’t give markny1978 any updates, and his soda supply kept dwindling overnight. One day, a man showed up at markny1978’s cubicle—the soda thief’s union representative.
“With a hint of repressed anger, he shoves a card in my hand and says he’s ‘sorry that things turned out this way’ in a way that implied I was the bad guy,” he wrote. “I read the card, and it’s an apology card from the soda thief with a $10 bill inside. Still a bit confused over the unexpected visit and method of notification, I made some kind of comment to this effect, and the guy flat out told me the soda thief was fired.”
“I was honestly shocked by this news, I didn’t set out nor expect anyone to get fired over this! But then hindsight kicked in and I recalled a few other, more severe theft incidents had occurred in the months prior. While I don’t think the incidents were related, the firing may have been done as a heavy-handed approach to set an example to others.”
The takeaway: Theft is theft. If you’re going to steal something—even a soda—don’t be surprised if you lose your job over it.
8. Lunch theft is nothing to sneeze at.
“Many years ago, someone started stealing the candy bars out of my lunch bag at work,” writes Quora user Steven Lanier. “So I took a Snickers bar, opened it from one side, and carefully cut a hole in the bottom, saving the chocolate to cover up the hole.”
This guy’s like the MacGyver of petty revenge.
“Inside the hole, which was about the size of a pencil eraser, I packed finely ground black pepper, then put the chocolate ‘lid’ back over the hole. I sealed it back in the bag, so it looked [normal]. I was laughing during the entire ‘operation.'”
“I put it in my lunch bag and left it in the fridge for someone to steal. I’d like to tell you I found out who the thief was, but I never got the pleasure—directly, anyway. But I can tell you that they got a serious surprise and a valuable life lesson. After that, no one touched my lunch. Still makes me chuckle, and this happened back in 1996.”
We’d like to think that Lanier has “The Great Pepper Revenge” marked on his calendar and that he commemorates the occasion every year by eating a Snickers. Hey, we can’t knock his ingenuity.
9. Just to be clear, we don’t recommend switching your food with something gross.
Depending on what you use, you could get into some legal trouble. With that said, these stories are oddly satisfying.
“There was a guy in our building that was a notorious food thief,” wrote Quora user Joshua Johnson. “We will call him ‘Jim’ for simplicity’s sake.”
“Jim did not care. He would eat anything that was in the fridge regardless of name, comment, or warnings left on the food. It was bad.”
For several years, Jim terrorized his office, eating dozens of lunches without facing any serious repercussions. Johnson notes that he worked somewhere where it was “hard to get fired,” so while Jim was regularly chastised for his thievery, he didn’t seem to mind. Then, one day, one of Jim’s coworkers had had enough.
“This co-worker—we’ll call him ‘Bill’—decided he was going to fix the problem. Bill went to McDonald’s and bought a couple cheeseburgers. He then left those burgers in his car for a week or so. Bill made all efforts to put every warning on the bag, saying that no one was to touch it, and he put it in the fridge.”
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Jim, of course, ignored the warnings, eating two of the rancid burgers. He ended up in the office bathroom—then the hospital, as he contracted a serious case of food poisoning.
“Three or four days later, Jim came back to work,” Johnson wrote. “Jim got very upset with Bill and confronted him in the break room. Come to find out, they had to pump Jim’s stomach. Jim was furious, and so was Bill. The supervisor came in, and Jim tried to pull him into the argument. The supervisor just told him calmly that he should probably stop eating things he didn’t bring.”
Just to reiterate one more time: Bill’s actions were possibly illegal, and they could have had serious repercussions. Johnson ends his story by noting that he doesn’t recommend the approach.
“Only booby trap your lunch with foods that you are willing to eat yourself,” he wrote.